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Here's the Story Behind BrainDead's Delightfully Wacky "Previously On ... " Song

Songwriter Jonathan Coulton gives us the scoop

Liz Raftery

You might have noticed something strange if you caught Monday's episode of BrainDead. And no, we're not talking about the show's general concept of bugs eating people's brains.

Rather than a traditional voiceover recap for the "Previously On" segment at the start of each episode, creators Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife) opted for a more unconventional approach. BrainDead's "Previously On" segments are minute-long folk songs penned by songwriter Jonathan Coulton. And, like the alien creepy-crawlers invading Washington D.C. on BrainDead, they're liable to get stuck in your head. (Check out the one from Monday's episode in the video clip above.)

Coulton had a working relationship with the Kings after they based a Good Wife storyline on a copyright infringement case he was involved in. (Glee once used his cover version of Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" without permission.) Later, he had a cameo on a Good Wife episode, playing a man who gets arrested for drunk driving.

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"At that point I think they were already thinking about the idea of [BrainDead], and [Robert King] mentioned it to me," Coulton tells TVGuide.com. "He said [they wanted] some kind of musical component to the show. And I said, 'Yeah, definitely, it sounds interesting. Keep me posted.' And then I don't know how much time after that, but some time later he called and said, 'Yeah, hey, we're doing the show.' He had this idea of doing these recap songs. So it was his idea."

Check out our Q&A with Coulton to find out why he thinks he was the right man for the job, and what political words are the most difficult to rhyme:

TVGuide.com: How did Robert pitch the show do you, and what did you think of the premise?
Jonathan Coulton:
When he first pitched it to me, it felt timely, but it's sort of amazing that now it feels even more timely than it did. He said, 'Basically the idea is, this alien parasite has come to earth and is taking over people's brains and controlling their political thoughts and making them a lot more partisan. And it's a science fiction show. But it's also got a kind of dark humor to it, and of course there's a lot of political commentary in there as well.' It sounded just wonky enough to be really interesting.


Danny Pino, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, BrainDead

Macall Polay, CBS

Why do you think your music works so well with it?
First of all, the tone of the show is, you have these alien parasites going in and eating people's brains, and people's brains coming out of their ears. You have some heads exploding. When you describe it that way, it sounds like a horrific thing to have to watch, but it's got this sense of humor to it and it's meant to be all in fun.

I think that one of the things Robert and Michelle like about the stuff I do is that I can pack a lot of information into a story. I can tell a story pretty well in song. Most of my songs... there are characters, and things happen, and there's an arc. And, to be able to do it with a kind of sense of humor that is also taking things a little bit seriously. So, it is talking about some real issues in our political landscape. But it's also doing so with tongue firmly in cheek. And I think that is the same kind of line that I like to walk when I'm writing a song.

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How is writing these "Previously On" songs different from your regular songwriting?
I [like] the idea of a song as the recap at the top of a show, which I have never heard of before. I was immediately intrigued, because it's a real challenge. There's a lot of information you have to convey. And if you're gonna do it in a way that it also rhymes and is singable and hopefully fun to listen to and hopefully funny, then it's like the most complicated crossword puzzle you've ever done. And that's right up my alley. ... Luckily these songs are very short, so I have time to write them.

Do the Kings have any input on the songs themselves, or is that all you?
They send me the episodes ahead of time and they let me know which storylines are important to remind everybody of. And then I take a pass at it, and if they have suggestions I can make changes. Once we're all happy with the song, then they edit the visual component to go with it.

Will you be doing a song for each episode?
Absolutely. Thirteen episodes means 12 recaps for me.

What's been the hardest word you've had to rhyme in one of the recap songs?
One of the big challenges of the subject matter is that I have to use words like "Republican" and "Democrat," and I had to describe a character who was a "Republican Senator." The idea of fitting those syllables into a song is very challenging. I did end up rhyming Senator. I cheated a little bit. I said "Sena-TORE," so that I could rhyme it with "for" or something like that. Which is not really how you pronounce it. But there are a lot of tricks when you're writing a song.

BrainDead airs Mondays at 10/9c on CBS.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)